Can a news "paper" teach you how to fall in love, at last, with the city you've lived in for 40 years? I moved to Seattle from New York in 1969 to enter a graduate program at the UW, driving across the country in a Ford packed with books, clothes, music, and a Pete Seeger five-string banjo. At night I slept in the front seat at “always open” gas stations along the way.
Crossing the Cascades and finally arriving here, I was unimpressed by Pacific Northwest scenery, but for me that was pretty typical. Views and vistas left me cold except for conventional sentiment, as when seeing a red sun sink behind a blue-gray mountaintop or the moon leave a silver trail on a rippled sea.
The physical place in Seattle where I started putting down roots was the University of Washington. It wasn't the beautiful campus that drew me. It was Suzzallo Library — the musty fragrance of old hardbacks, the noble stacks of academic journals, the study carrel where I could leave a research project each night and find it in the same safe place the next day. It was the UW classrooms, too, where people I grew fond of liked to argue and think together about Dryden or Cather. My attachments to schools have always been strong. I've loved and trusted them ever since walking through the doorway of Drexel Hill Elementary near Philadelphia at the age of 5 and meeting Miss O'Brien, my first-grade teacher.
In Seattle I’ve been a participating citizen — voting in elections, recycling, jogging around Green Lake, etc. But an affectionate sense of belonging in and to the city failed to develop, even though I wasn't pining for some other city. I had never pined for any city. If I felt “at home" here, it was because I had friends and meaningful work here, and everything was so familiar I didn't think about it much.
I didn't think about it much. But thinking about something is one sure way of bringing me into a relationship with it that matters to me. A thread of my attention goes out, lightly lassoes a part of the world, and makes a vital connection. Crosscut, in leading me to think about the parts that are Seattle and the Northwest, has tied me to them warmly.
These days the rewards of reading Crosscut keep me coming back each morning. And though I sometimes wish for less harried evenings after a long career as a full-time teacher, writing for Crosscut keeps me coming back, too. I’m happy even when a deadline looms and time is short, because I get to write about literature and teaching. I get to write about spending personal time with Seattleites I’ve come to care about, who are stuck in the invisible ghettos of mental illness or homelessness. I get to write about my ne'er-do-well dad, confident that some Crosscut readers will enjoy meeting this very American character through my stories. Writing for Crosscut strengthens my faith that trying to make sense of the everyday is important to people across the region — that the effort bonds us all, the differently blessed and the variously needy, into a community of understanding.
Crosscut also allows me and other readers to venture further and delve more deeply into things. As a reader I'm trying right now to wrap my mind around tough city budget choices, regional transportation issues, state politics, and environmental problems affecting everyone. When I read stories from multiple contributors on a single topic together with comments by their readers (some of whom turn out to be specialized experts; a slew of recent stories and comments on the Viaduct and proposed I-5 tunnel come to mind), I can begin to grasp the intricate complexity of the issue. In favoring thoughtful analysis and commentary over “coverage” of the kind provided in some media by fast-running, shallow floods of news, Crosscut challenges me to think in more complicated, comprehensive ways about my Northwest home.
As a writer I'm being challenged, too. For a couple of Crosscut stories-in-progress I'm trying to get to the heart of the growing problem of inappropriate anti-psychotic medications prescribed for Washington’s children and to understand how the needs of mentally ill inmates in our state prisons are met (stay tuned!).
I think; therefore I love. And with Crosscut close at hand I’ve learned some wonderful ways of thinking about Seattle.
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